Opinion & Features

Literary London turns out for the inaugural Catholic Herald Book Awards

William Cash with winners John Gray, James Stourton, Robin Baird Smith (on behalf of Roger Scruton), Antonia Fraser and Adam Dant at the Book Awards (Joanne Davidson/Catholic Herald)

The inaugural Catholic Herald Book Awards have taken place at Brown’s Hotel in London, with the broadcaster and author Mark Lawson acting as master of ceremonies. 

Some last-minute juggling of the order in which the awards were presented was necessary when it was noted that Adam Dant, the winner of the best illustrated book category was not in his seat as the Brown’s Endive Salad was passed around the tables. There was an absent place next to the biographer Leanda de Lisle. 

After it was discovered that Dant had been so inspired by a commission he was working on that he had “forgotten the time”, he rushed to Mayfair, and then struggled to find the hotel – arriving only just in time for the award presentation. 

Dant apologised to the gathered literati, saying that he was “only too aware of the irony of winning an award for a book that is a collection of London maps, and then to get lost on the way”. 

Such wit set the tone for the rest of the award acceptance speeches. Dant was the winner of the Travel and Illustrated section with Maps of London and Beyond, which Nicky Haslam described as a “work of genius”. One map reimagines Shoreditch as New York City, complete  with the Statue of Liberty and Central Park. The other nominees were TJ Clarke,  Tom Harper and Helen Hoffner. Lady Antonia Fraser’s The King and  the Catholics took the award for History. This “erudite work”, in the words of one judge, tells the story of the fight for Catholic emancipation in the 1820s. 

Anyone needing a reminder of its relevance needed merely to look out of the window at Brown’s, to see the National Heritage Plaque commemorating Daniel O’Connell over the road. The Irish political leader responsible for the Roman Catholic Relief Act, and a prominent figure in Fraser’s book, he lived in Albemarle Street, opposite the hotel. In her acceptance speech, Lady Antonia said that she would have loved to see the look on the face of Mother Ignatius, her headmistress at St Mary’s School, Ascot, on being awarded this prize. 

Sir Roger Scruton won the Current Affairs prize with Where we are: The state of Britain Now. Always controversial and often brilliant, Roger Scruton’s offering is certainly a book for our tumultuous times and the award was collected by his publisher and friend Robin Baird-Smith of Bloomsbury. 

James Stourton won the Biography prize with Kenneth Clark: Art, Life, and Civilisation. The award was presented by Catholic Herald chairman William Cash who described how Stourton revealed the “human man” who often regarded himself as a fraud or failure – behind the guarded aesthetic façade. “Stourton presents an immaculately made case for a reappraisal of Clark as a serious art scholar and public servant,” he said. 

Jane Glover, Leanda de Lisle and Andrew Roberts were also singled out for their shortlisted books, with Roberts’s biography, Churchill: Walking with Destiny, being regarded as a book that stood up for the values of Western civilisation. 

In White King: The Tragedy of Charles I, Leanda de Lisle presented Charles’s Catholic wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, as a fully rounded woman, stepping away from the stereotype, while the subject of Jane Glover’s Handel in London was considered a genius for rarely taking more than a month on a work. He may have prospered even better, however, in his own lifetime had he stuck to working in Catholic countries, it was noted. 

John Gray, an atheist, was the winner of the religion and theology category with Seven Types of Atheism. Gray administers a shot of intellectual stimulant to a debate which has been for too long dominated by Richard Dawkins. Former Herald editor Cristina Odone thanked Sir Rocco Forte and his wife, Lady Forte, for providing Brown’s Hotel as a venue. The elegant surroundings elevated the proceedings, and the delicious lunch of Brown’s endive salad, roast chicken and salted caramel tart (with wines from Tanners, sponsored by Redemptorist Publications) ensured the event was a foodie triumph. Mark Lawson commiserated with the losers by turning to Mark 10:31: “Many that are first shall be last, and the last first…”   

Winners and nominees  

Travel and Illustrated  

Judges: Lady Forte, Elizabeth Hurley,  Nicky Haslam, Peter Sheppard 

Nominees (winners in bold): 

  • Heaven on Earth: Painting and the Life to Come, TJ Clark (Sophia Institute Press)
  • Maps of London and Beyond, Adam Dant (Batsford and Spitalfields Life Books)
  • Atlas: A World of Maps from the British Library, Tom Harper (British Library Publishing)
  • Catholic Traditions and Treasures: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, Helen Hoffner (Batsford)

History 

Judges: Harry Mount, Tom Holland,  Ed West, Francis Phillips  

  • The King and the Catholics: The Fight for Rights 1829, Antonia Fraser (Orion Books)
  • Soho in the Eighties, Christopher Howse (Bloomsbury)
  • Dictator Literature: A History of Bad Books by Terrible People, Daniel Kalder (Oneworld)
  • Christianity in the Twentieth Century: A World History, Brian Stanley (Princeton University Press) 

Current Affairs 

Judges: Colin Brazier, Professor  John Charmley, Simon Caldwell,  Melanie McDonagh  

  • Oil, Power and War: A Dark History, Matthieu Auzanneau (Chelsea Green)
  • Death of the Gods: The New Global Power Grab, Carl Miller (Penguin Random House)
  • Where We Are: The State of Britain Now, Roger Scruton (Bloomsbury)
  • The Fragility of Order: Catholic Reflections on Turbulent Times, George Weigel (Ignatius)

Biography 

Judges: William Cash, Hugo Vickers,  Dan Hitchens, Mick Duggan  

  • Handel in London: The Making of a Genius, Jane Glover (Macmillan)
  • White King: Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr, Leanda de Lisle (Chatto & Windus)
  • Churchill: Walking with Destiny, Andrew Roberts (Allen Lane)
  • Kenneth Clark: Life, Art and Civilisation, James Stourton (William Collins)

Religion and Theology 

Judges: Mary Kenny, Cristina Odone,  Fr Christopher Colven, Fr Alexander  Lucie-Smith    

  • Seven Types of Atheism, John Gray (Penguin Random House)
  • Skymeadow: Notes from an English Gardener, Charlie Hart (Little Brown)
  • The Radiance of Her Face: A Triptych in Honor of Mary Immaculate, Dom Xavier Perrin (Angelico Press)
  • Francis: A Life in Songs, Ann Wroe (Penguin Random House)